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Sickness absence returns to higher levels, finds CIPD

After a small decrease in sickness absence last year, average levels are back up to 7.6 days per employee, which is on par with levels in 2010 and 2011.

According to the CIPD's annual Absence Management survey for 2013, the public service sector recorded the highest absence levels, with employees off sick for an average of 8.7 days. This is a rise on last year's 7.9 days, which represented the lowest levels of recorded absence in the sector for a decade.

The employees taking the least amount of time off sick came from the manufacturing and production sector, with only 6 days a year per employee.

Small changes that were cited included adapting working hours from the traditional nine to five, and comprehensive training for line managers on tackling absence and conducting effective return-to-work interviews.

Jill Miller, CIPD research adviser and co-author of the report, suggested that the current social climate could be affecting how employees approach work.

"Changing demographics, including more people with caring responsibilities and the abolition of the default retirement age, mean more people are looking to work untraditional hours", she said.

Offering more flexible working opportunities also helps to respond to the needs of the UK's ageing workforce, in which older employees will increasingly need and want to work in different ways and with different hours as they move towards retirement.

Stress and musculoskeletal injuries continue to top the list of causes of absence and, despite nearly 40 per cent of employers increasing their focus on stress management over the past 12 months, stress-related absence has seen a steady rise over the last year for the UK's workforce.

Methods to identify and reduce stress in the workplace, such as staff surveys, flexible working options and employee assistance programmes, are gaining prominence in workplaces across the UK. However the CIPD's latest figures suggest more needs to be done to tackle increasing sickness absence rates.

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